In cricket as in the rest of life, the darkest hour comes just before dawn and it looked like a very dark hour for England when the West Indies hit 50 without a loss in response to England’s 204 .
The English three-speed bowlers, throwing the new ball, had derived little sewing motion from the parched surface, while the West Indies had found plenty when it was wet on the first day. Additionally, Chris Woakes and Craig Overton still looked intimidated at the prospect of taking a new ball past James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Kraigg Brathwaite, meanwhile, was as unwavering as ever. He had faced 880 balls in that attritional series and had been dismissed by three of them. Almost a one in 300 chance, then, when Ben Stokes ran again. But Stokes was never impressed by the numbers.
As the game and series tilted towards the West Indies, Stokes woke up to play on what appeared to be one knee, or at least only his right knee appeared to be intact. Stokes led the way, on the one hand by moral example to the rest of the team – giving their all despite the obvious pain – and on the other hand by applying the tactic of kicking the ball a short distance to maximize the increasingly uneven bounce.
Brathwaite, beaten by Stokes’ delivery which stayed low, finished as if playing French cricket, chest on. Did a single bullet decide the outcome of a series? It could well have been this one, both in terms of the immediate impact – deflating the West Indies by depriving them of their captain – and its consequences.
Because, after being shown by Stokes how to bowl on this ground, the English specialist designers followed suit. Craig Overton, after floating it full length, rocked John Campbell’s helmet twice and Shamarh Brooks’ ribs before Campbell gloved it to the side of the leg. They were two different Overtons, not twins this time but the same player.
Saqib Mahmood has a wider variety of deliveries and has grown day by day in this series; while Chris Woakes has finally come to terms by magnifying his intention, no longer content to be an automaton of line and length. He didn’t want to go down in cricketing history with a foreign average over 50, nice or not.
Boosted by Stokes, the English specialist bowlers attacked the West Indian batter before the ball got any softer; and they had already attacked the West Indian bowling alley too. When England faced oblivion at 53 in six, the three tailors and Jack Leach scored 129 runs from their four at bats.
England have long been at their best in low-scoring aerial combat – provided they bat first, post on the board and have a goal to defend in the fourth innings. But they still needed points on the board in this test, and there were none, not before their bowlers put their heads down.
Woakes is still taking part with his merry 20s and 30s, but it was the last wicket of Jack Leach, unbeaten on 41, and Mahmood, 49, who was almost unique – only the second time in nearly 2,500 Test matches that in count ten and eleven were the two top scorers.
In January in Sydney, Broad and Anderson had survived the last two rounds of rotation in waning light to give England a life-saving draw.
If this turns out to be the last time they play together for England, it will be a good way for everyone to remember them, walking together after challenging the oldest foe.
Still, it wasn’t quite representative. One of the reasons England have lost so many Tests lately is the lack of a stir. Anderson took 23 Test innings to score his final 45 runs; Wide ten innings to score his last 47 runs.
Teams that don’t have a stubborn tail rarely possess great team spirit. In this bottom-of-the-table clash in Granada, England displayed the fact that they still had many flaws, but lack of team spirit was not one of them.